Do Cartoon Characters Make Food Taste Better to Kids?


happy feetAccording to a recent study, kids think that food with a cartoon character on the package tastes better. This confirms some of my recent observations that kids are bad at making decisions. Unlike grown-ups who only respond to reasoned, thoughtful celebrity endorsements. Hey, if Dennis Leary says that Ford trucks have more torque, then Ford trucks have more torque. Whatever that is. I just need an F-150, ok?

So do kids really prefer the taste of food with a cartoon character on the packaging? And if so, what should you do about it as a parent? The study seems pretty convincing and really it’s not that surprising. People generally have good feelings about things they like the looks of. That’s why it takes so much longer to find out that your attractive co-workers are just as lazy as your unattractive ones.

The study presented kids with two different cereals–a relatively healthy one and a sweet one–each presented two ways–with characters from Happy Feet on the box and without. They were then asked to rate the flavor of the cereal. With both cereals, kids preferred the taste of the Happy Feet-branded one to the unbranded one. What this means is that cereal manufacturers can put whatever they want in a box and your kids will like it just so long as it has Buzz Lightyear on it. All you can do is hope they use their powers for good and try to start branding celery or something.

So now that you know that your kid will literally eat shards of glass if they have pictures of Thomas the Tank Engine on them, what can you do about it? There are no easy solutions. We try to keep our daughter away from advertising and branded products we don’t think she’s ready for, but there’s a whole world out there and you can’t shelter them from everything. So we also try to discuss how commercials and marketing work, making sure that she knows that sometimes commercials say things that aren’t true to make you want things you don’t need and that the Little Bear toothpaste is the same as the regular toothpaste. But, they’re still kids and you can’t really expect them to get all that. Sometimes the most important thing you can do as a parent is say “No.” Kids are bad at making decisions, that’s why you need to make some for them.